Aral sea restoration turns saltflat into forest

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saxaulDisaster tourists need to book their ticket to Kazakhstan quickly, as one of the main attractions for them is scheduled to disappear soon (Russian). Spring planting on the dried-out bottom of the Aral Sea in Kazakhstan is changing the lake-turned-saltflat into a forest of saxaul, tamarix and sarsazanovye (Halocnemum strobilaceum), all hardy, drought-resistant species that can resist the harsh conditions of the Kyzyl Kum desert. This spring, 10 000 ha, or about 4 million trees will be planted in South Kazakhstan as part of the Aral Sea restoration project.

Saxaul, a highly sought-after tree that is used for firing up countless ‘shashlik’ meat grills, is especially useful as it readily absorbs salt and does not need watering. Eroded salt from the Aral Sea has been a bane for farmers and locals alike, as sand storms deposit the unfertile soil on farmlands rendering them useless, causing health problems and extreme temperatures in the process. The new forest will act as a giant shelterbelt, tackling wind erosion and preventing sand storms in the future.

Kazakhstan has managed to save part of the Aral Sea by building a dam trapping water on their side of the border.

For those dark hearts already dreading ecocide is disappearing from the planet, they can rest assured: the Aral Sea in Uzbekistan is still shrinking and most likely to disappear completely as soon as 2020 due to the tapping of the Amu Darya river for thirsty cotton plantations.

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